Sagar Baheti- India’s First Vision-Impaired Athlete To Have Completed The Boston Marathon
Sagar Baheti, our vision-impaired guest writer, qualified for The Boston Marathon, which certainly is not easy to get through. The runners need a qualifying time that involves them running with a set date range on a certain type of course. This proud athlete tells us how his rare degenerative eye condition lead him to discover his passion for running. He’s of the opinion “What comes in your way, becomes the way.” Read on to know his road to Boston;
About 6 years ago, I had little or no clue about long distance running. Maybe I did not even consider it as a sport. Running was a warm up exercise during our Cricket camps. Today, I can take a little pride in saying that I’ve participated in the olympics of amateur running. The Boston Marathon, one of the most competitive modern day marathons and definitely not the easiest one to qualify for.
Now I understand how competitive the sport is. The test of endurance, speed and mental toughness it takes to cross the line at 26.2 miles. Like any other sport, it’s all about practice, strategy and skill. Yes you read that right, running well is a great skill!
What it took to understand this sport and be able to run Boston? A rare degenerative eye condition!
I was diagnosed with a macular degenerative eye condition that leads to a progressive loss of central vision. Playing cricket was out of my life. I missed playing a sport and so I considered other sports like basketball (I thought the big ball would help) but it didn’t work with the boundary lines and recognising faces of team members. Thanks to running getting popular in India in the last 5 years, I decided to give it a shot and run a 10K. I started with the Coorg escapade, a very scenic and challenging run. I crossed the line and that was a big deal just finishing 10k!
It felt good to have crossed a milestone. Now I wanted to do more and before I knew it, I was hooked to running! My vision at that point was still pretty good to be able to run by myself. But in a couple of years, I started missing the pot holes and small obstructions on the road.
A new challenge now! But this time, I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from pursuing my new found sport. I had to find a way to make it work. My research about this put me in touch with various vision-impaired running groups in the United States. I learnt about guide runners and the training a vision-impaired runner goes through. Back then, since running was a very nascent sport in India, people barely knew about guides and training. So, I decided to use all the information and ask help from my friends and trainers. When I had company, I would get out and go for long runs on roads and otherwise just run in my apartment complex and on the tread mill! Yeah, that’s how I trained. I then started to enjoy my runs and before I knew, I was running marathons now.
A dear friend of mine Devika, who lived in Boston, suggested that I should aim to run the Boston Marathon; and I thought I didn’t even stand a chance! I was just enjoying my running and wasn’t really aiming for anything of that sort yet. Devika, meanwhile got in touch with the vision-impaired team at the Boston marathon and made an application for me. There are different qualifying norms for the vision-impaired at the Boston marathon; I had to run a 26.2 miles in less than 4 hours to qualify. Now, I had a target and I started working towards it. This meant I had to go for more long runs and I had to find a way to do that.
I was not part of any running club at that time as all of them start early in the morning and it would be too dark for me to get out so early. I didn’t have any runner friends then and I could not train with my other friends for they weren’t running to achieve the same target as me. I decided to participate in every organised run in the season so I got a chance to run with larger number of people and on a track where I don’t have to be scared of watching out for myself. I ran the Kaveri Trail, Bangalore Ultra, Ladakh Marathon, Mumbai Marathon, Bangalore Marathon and many more. Apart from this, I trained at the gym with a personal trainer to help me build strength and speed. It took a little more than one year of hard training and perseverance to achieve my goal. I did finally run the 26.2 miles in 3 hours and 48 minutes which would qualify me at Boston.
In April 2017, I ran the Boston marathon and crossed the line with the Indian flag in my hand! This earned me the title of first vision-impaired Indian to have achieved this. Crossing the line with the Indian flag in my hand was an overwhelming feeling that brought with it a lot more than just a sense of achievement. There are situations in life when some things are beyond our control and your approach towards these can either make you or break you. Instead of stressing about what we do not have, we need to focus on our strengths and push our limits. We ourselves would be amazed of our physical and mental abilities. I can’t believe my eye condition lead me down this road, I am a lot more fitter and couldn’t be more grateful for my capabilities. And likewise, everyone can choose to let the obstacle pave their way.
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